MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico’s president said Thursday that his country does not produce or consume fentanyl, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador appeared to describe the synthetic opioid epidemic as largely a US problem and said the United States must use family values to fight drug addiction.
His statement came during a visit to Mexico by Liz Sherwood-Randall, the White House’s homeland security adviser, to discuss the fentanyl crisis. It also comes amid calls by US Republicans to use the US military to attack drug labs in Mexico.
The Mexican government has admitted in the past that fentanyl is produced in laboratories in Mexico using precursor chemicals imported from China. Fentanyl is blamed for about 70,000 opioid deaths annually in the United States.
“We don’t produce fentanyl here and we don’t have fentanyl consumption,” López Obrador said. “Why aren’t they (the United States) addressing their social breakdown problem?”
The Mexican president went on to recite a list of reasons he said Americans are turning to fentanyl, including single-parent families and parents who kick grown children out of their homes or send elderly relatives to nursing homes “and visit them once a year. “
The Mexican president’s statement contrasted sharply with U.S. Ambassador Ken Salazar’s statement on Twitter Thursday that the meeting between Sherwood-Randle and Mexico’s attorney general was intended to “strengthen security cooperation and fight the scourge of fentanyl, to to better protect our two nations.”
There is little debate among US and even Mexican officials that almost all of the fentanyl consumed in the United States is produced and processed in Mexico.
In February, the Mexican military announced it had seized more than half a million fentanyl pills in what it called the largest synthetic drug lab discovered to date. The military said the discovered lab was found in Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa state.
In the same city in 2021, the military raided a laboratory it said was likely producing about 70 million blue fentanyl pills each month for the Sinaloa cartel.
“The president is lying,” said Mexican security analyst David Saucedo. “The Mexican cartels, primarily the CJNG (Jalisco New Generation Cartel) and the Sinaloa Cartel, have learned to produce it.”
“They buy the precursor chemicals themselves, set up labs to make fentanyl and distribute it to cities across the United States and sell it,” Saucedo said. “Little by little they started to build a monopoly on fentanyl because the Mexican cartels are present throughout the production and sales chain.”
While it is true that fentanyl consumption appears to remain low in Mexico and largely confined to the northern border areas, this may be because the Mexican government is so bad at detecting it. A 2019 study in the border city of Tijuana found that 93 percent of methamphetamine and heroin samples there contained some fentanyl.
Saucedo said the export of fentanyl has been so lucrative for Mexican cartels that they haven’t seen much need in the past to develop a domestic market for the drug.
“It’s true that the consumption of fentanyl in Mexico is negligible, but some mid-level cartels have started selling it in border towns and in big cities like León, Mexico City and Monterrey,” Saucedo said.
On Wednesday, US Senator Lindsey Graham held a press conference where he said he wanted to “unleash the fury and power of the US against these cartels”.
“The second step we’re going to commit to is giving the military the power to go after these organizations wherever they exist,” Graham said. “Not to invade Mexico. Not for shooting down Mexican planes. And for the destruction of drug laboratories that poison Americans.”
López Obrador said Mexico would not accept such threats, calling them “an insult to Mexico and a lack of respect for our independence and sovereignty.”
Lopez threatened to launch a campaign in the United States, asking Mexicans and Hispanics living there not to vote Republican.
“We will make an appeal not to vote for this party because they are inhumane and interventionist,” López Obrador said.
Mexicans, both in and out of government, clearly fear an increase in the use of fentanyl in Mexico. A civic group launched a campaign to paint walls with the slogan “Mxsinfentanilo” — “Mexico without fentanyl” — and López Obrador launched a series of TV ads against the drug.
But again, the López Obrador government appears to view fentanyl as a US problem.
In ads released in November, the Mexican government used videos of homeless people and drug users outdoors in Philadelphia’s bustling Kensington neighborhood to try to scare young people away from drugs.